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Caring for Carers.


Incontrovertibly there is a growing need for carers in the UK. It is well documented that our population is ageing, with the Office for National Statistics projecting an increase of 12% (1.1 million) in the numbers of people aged over 65 in the next few years. Added to this increase, advances in medicine mean that more people are surviving serious injury and very preterm births which can increase the likelihood of disability and the need for some level of care thereafter.

A recent report from Age UK (The Health and Care of Older People in England 2017) highlights that the UK’s primary care resources are severely stretched. The UK Government’s injection of £2 billion for adult social care in the spring budget was in no doubt needed to help protect existing services; however, it is the long-term solution to this growing issue that remains elusive.

In the UK there are both paid and unpaid carers. Carers Week 2017 (12th -18th of June) aims to raise national awareness of the 6.5 million people across the UK who provide unpaid care for disabled, ill or older family members or friends. It is reported that “3 in 4 carers don’t feel their caring role is understood or valued by their community”. I wonder if paid carers feel the same way?

Not only are the demands placed on carers challenging in terms of carrying out their duties within a timeframe, the expectations of competence and compliance are also significant. Whilst it is absolutely right that the Care Quality Commission has standards upon which care providers are evaluated, and that there is becoming more consistency in the training of carers through The Care Certificate Framework published by Health Education England; what is interesting from my perspective as a psychologist, is the diverse level of competencies that carers are required to demonstrate given the relatively low remuneration and status associated with this incredibly important role.

Arguably carers are required to apply skills from multiple disciplines including psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and nursing to deliver the person-centered care that is required. To achieve competence in any of these professions a degree and sometimes post-graduate degree is necessary, and yet there is the expectation that through basic training and later NVQs, the carer can deliver the needs documented in the care-plan to all of their service users. This is quite an expectation… I wonder if it is realistic, or are we inadvertently setting carers up to fail as we protect the vulnerable people being cared for?

There appears to be a tension in care, whilst being a carer can be hugely rewarding, it is also incredibly challenging – physically, emotionally and psychologically. Working in care can mean long hours and shifts which can result in poor eating habits and sleep quality. We know that these things alone can contribute to psychological and physical health related issues. Add to this the impact of continually meeting the needs of others, is it then any wonder that stress and burn-out is then prevalent? so I ask the question, who cares for carers? 

Valuing those heroines and heroes who are meeting the needs of the most vulnerable members of our society must be a priority for us all. As professionals, understanding and being sympathetic to the challenges of caring is essential. Offering quality training to front-line carers and supervision to managers seems key to encouraging well-being as stress and disillusionment appear to be the outcome for many carers right now. Alarmingly, Mind’s 2016 research reported two in five (43%) saying that workplace stress led to them resigning or considering resigning from their jobs – so let’s apply what we know from psychology to promote and support the well-being of care workers. Indeed, big business has long recognised the value of looking after their most important asset – their staff; so, isn’t it time that we start to care for our carers?

With an election looming and manifestos published, funding for care will undoubtedly be a headline grabber… or a political hot potato, either way I’ll leave politics to the politicians. As a clinician, what I can do in the run up to National Carers Week is say thank you to the paid and unpaid carers of this country, and offer respect for the rewarding yet incredibly tough work they do to support those in need in this little country of ours.

Dr Anwen Whitham

Clinical Psychologist and Director of Stable Focus


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